Have you ever been to a place and wondered why it was not listed in the travel guide as one of the ‘Top 10 places to visit’ ? Well I have and I came up with a couple of answers. It could be that the author of that travel guide hasn’t been there yet. It could be the fact that there are some places you just have to let people discover for themselves. Or it could be that the blogger understands that what makes some trips worth discussing is not as much of where you go, but who you go with. Toubacouta was such that kind of place.
The many arts and crafts stores leading up to the gates of our hotel allowed me rule out the first two options, because nothing screams ‘tourist’ like a row of stores selling the same typical ‘I went to Africa’ ( or more politically correct ‘Senegal’) wooden lion’s mask. That left only option C. As I strolled round my hotel room, my excitement for the week ahead built up, and I don’t know if it was the cool air from the air conditioner that hit me the minute I walked in, the sight of a toilet seat + toilet paper, my beautifully tanned reflection in the mirror or the loving expression on the face of my cohort as we said hi to each other, but something, whatever it was, made that week already seem better than average.
To be honest, it was your typical tourist location. The place that gave you just enough cultural immersion without forcing you to change the date on your return ticket. It was complete with a swimming pool, a dock, the view of lush green forests and nature at its best that fits every ‘I’ve been to Africa’ picture, top notch service and just the right amount of monkeys, exotic birds and tortoise. But as I sat down to my nutritious meal of ceebu jen and sipped my diabetes inflicting bisapp drink I realized that my week at Toubacouta meant something different for me than for the Belgian/French woman in her mini skirt sitting across from me.
(Aside from the obvious fact that I was there for my last week of ICO and she was probably there for her last week of summer)
Just like option C, my experience at Toubacouta was a memorable one not only because of the beautiful location and the insightful activities, but also because of the beautiful people I was there with. The kind of people who would push you into the pool because it’s too hot. The kind of people that will risk becoming dinner for a tribe of mosquitoes just to watch the stars with you. The kind of people you discuss the disadvantages of globalization on the Senegalese economy with, while sharing a pack of U.S imported M&M’s. The kind of people that will stay up late with you to read over your common app essay because sometimes college just can’t wait! The kind of people that make even temporary goodbyes difficult is the reason you might never see toubacouta the same way I did.
I learnt a lot about Senegal within that week, but I learnt a lot more about how Senegal changes you, and I can’t wait to see how and if it will change us. Although you might not have the same experience as I did, I do recommend you visit toubacouta, and hopefully your travel companions will make it just as worthwhile as mine did.